March Book Reviews

Happy April! Time for some reading!

I’m planning to take some time away from the blog to finish up my WIP and spring clean my house. Yeesh. I need a band of house spirits to help with that second task. One of the challenges with a log house, is wiping down each and every dusty log.

Wish me luck.

March book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a medical thriller, two poetry collections, a short story, and a Vietnam War memoir.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

I loved The Enchantment of Ravens and looked forward to reading another of Rogerson’s books. Just imagine a fantasy set in a Great Library where books ruffle their pages or grumble or sniff or snap at your clothing as you pass. Some of them are talkative, others love to sing opera, and a few are so wicked they have to be chained and locked in a vault. Imagine a world where demons can be bound as servants and where love tests the limits of evil. Where a haunted sorcerer and librarian’s apprentice join forces to save the world. Oooooh. This book is so magical.

The story is told from the POV of the apprentice. Elizabeth is quite daring, full of energy, genuinely emotional, and mostly fearless. Secondary characters are equally rich with distinct personalities. There’s a lot of humor in the relationships as well as tenderness and a touch of clever banter. The book isn’t a skinny little thing, but the plot moves well, and the story kept me turning pages.

And if that isn’t enough, the writing is beautiful, visual, and evocative. I love the imagery: “As the afternoon shadows deepened, the coach clattered into the Blackwald, the great forest that slashed through the kingdom like the stroke of a knife. Everything grew dark and damp. Here and there among the undergrowth stood shocking white stands of birch trees, like specters floating among the black gowns of a funeral party.”

Highly recommended to fans of fantasy, beautiful writing, and giant libraries full of magical books.

*****

Acts of Convenience by Alex Craigie

The opening of this book got me all riled up! It starts with some political maneuvering that might strike a little close to home depending on where you live. The lives of people are reduced to statistics, and their value is measured based on a cost-benefit analysis. In the case of healthcare, old people are deemed a burden on the system, and the government devises ways to help them into an early grave.

Cassie is a nurse in said healthcare system and doesn’t at first acknowledge that a broader conspiracy is at play. She notices poor care and unfair decisions, but there always seems to be a justification and excuse. Time moves forward, and the situation only gets worse. After 40 years in nursing, she has no choice but to acknowledge that something nefarious is occurring at her hospital. And she can’t let it go.

The story starts in 2017 and extends decades into the future. It becomes completely Cassie’s tale at about the 20% mark, and what a thriller. I had a hard time putting the book down and, over several nights, reading wrestled with my need for sleep. The plot is riveting as Cassie engages with an underground group who is dedicated to the truth and willing to risk their lives. Her secret life puts her at odds with her husband and family, and the danger ratchets up until the final showdown.

The characters are well-rounded and distinct with a full range of emotions. Cassie’s evolving relationships are varied and believable, the dialog natural. I especially liked Cassie and her granddaughter, Seren, and the closeness of their relationship. I also was delighted to read a thriller with an “older” main character. The pace speeds up as the stakes rise. Highly recommended.

*****

The Prince’s Son by Deborah Jay

Deborah Jay can write fantasy. This is the second book in The Five Kingdom series. The story focuses on several main characters: One, Rustam Chalice, who has been ordered by the Prince to escort two young women over the treacherous Tylocian mountains. Two, Nessa Haddo, one of the women who is kidnapped by the barbarian clans and must use her wits and burgeoning magic to escape. And three, Resada, the prince’s wife who is pregnant and conflicted about her life.

This is a long read, almost 500 pages. The worldbuilding is fascinating and politically complex, and it’s easy to see the depth of work that went into crafting it. For most of the book there are three related but independent plots, one for each main character. Despite some page-turning action, the navigation between the multiple storylines does make for a modest pace. The three narratives converge and wrap up well with a few dangling problems for the next book.

The characters are three dimensional and emotionally rich, and all three grow during the book with Nessa making the largest leap. To me, she stole the show in this read, though my heart also ached for Rustam and Resada. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who love an epic story with a lot of depth to the worldbuilding and characters. Start with Book One, The Prince’s Man.

*****

Midnight Haiku by Sue Vincent

I read this lovely collection of 365 haiku over a few days, but honestly it should take a year to fully savor them. For that reason, I plan to read the book again, one poem a day, which is how the author crafted them. The poems loosely follow the seasons. They’re reflections on the beauty and wonder of nature and the passage of time. They explore the mysteries of an ancient landscape and the human connections to sacred places. Some return home to the heart, to the magic and poignancy of love and the mysteries of life. In every sense, I found this a deeply spiritual read. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy haiku, daily inspiration and reflection, and beautiful, thought-provoking imagery. A few favorites:

walk forward in grace
stars have strewn a path of gold
bounded by beauty

from a darkling shore
dreamers can walk on water
a land of light calls.

closer to earth
a child’s eyes sees miracles
we have forgotten

we pass as shadows
ephemeral fallen leaves
on the path of time

*****

Minus One by Elizabeth Merry

Merry describes her collection of poetry as “The Story of a Life” and as I read her poems, I was aware of an underlying and poignant theme of loss—sometimes as a result of death, but also those losses brought about by change, time, growth, and aging. The poems are touching. The imagery digs deep, offering glimpses with carefully chosen details more than telling stories.

The book took about an hour to read, and I used the time to reflect and savor the words. It includes a combination of free-form poetry, haiku, and a selection of photographs to complement the poems. A stand out collection from start to finish, I had a difficult time picking favorites. A few that I highlighted are Minus One, The Red Petticoat, Seascapes, Landscapes, In a Yellow Dress, and Frances. Recommended to readers who enjoy reflective poetry from the heart.

As an example, here is the first stanza of Frances:

Here I will rest
My ashes falling
Into swirls of bog-brown water
In Spring perhaps
The river quiet
And the birds gone mad
My ghost will hover –
A shape in powdered white
Casting chills on my attendants…

*****

Brother’s Keeper by Jan Sikes

This short story touches on the relationship of two brothers, Quentin and Rowdy. For his whole life, Quentin has been his brother’s keeper, but when Rowdy kills a man, what will Quentin do? The story is a quick read, almost a character study, and moves at a speedy clip. The ending left me thinking about the family dysfunction and how it impacted every character and relationship, as well as the choices the two men made and were willing to live with. No one walks away unscathed. A grim tale. Well written and recommended for fans of short stories.

*****

Waiting for Westmoreland by John Maberry

John Maberry’s memoir tracks his life from his childhood in a struggling family through his disillusionment with the Vietnam War, and how that experience compelled him to make a positive difference in the world. That difference came first as an anti-war activist, second through getting a law degree, and finally, through embracing Buddhism and the recognition that change comes from within.

I most appreciated the account of his childhood and his years in the service. I was a child during the Vietnam War and “protected” from much of the grim news by my parents. John provides a personal glimpse into the war, and his account of his experiences, particularly the devaluation of human life, is heart-wrenching. The callousness and corruption of US political and military leadership, is infuriating.

I found the account of the subsequent years of activism and academic pursuits detailed and not quite as engaging, though they are part of his search for belonging and a way to facilitate change. How that search led to an understanding of Buddhism and the role of karma in his choices brings the memoir to a conclusion. I recommend this story to readers who enjoy memoirs and anyone interested in a soldier’s experience of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and the search for wholeness that followed.

Happy Reading!

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021 – #Pot Luck – Meet the Muse by D. Wallace Peach

Sally Cronin shared a blast from my past – a conversation with my mercenary muse, which kicked off my current WIP. If you’d like to see what I have to put up with when it comes to muses, head on over. And while you’re there, check out Sally’s books. You won’t be sorry you did. Have fun.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1000 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine. The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics.

In this series I will be sharing posts from the last six months of 2020

It is an opportunity to showcase your writing skill to my readers and also to share on my social media. Which combined is around the 46,000 mark. If you are an author your books will be mentioned too, along with their buy links and your other social media contacts. Head over to find out how to participate: Posts from Your Archives 2021

This is the second post from November 2020 by fantasy author Diana Wallace Peach. This post…

View original post 1,270 more words

The Proposal

Back on February 1st, Carrot Ranch kicked off the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic as a way to support Sue in her in journey through cancer and show her how much she is loved by this creative community.

Winners were announced on March 22nd. And what a fabulous outpouring of talent. To read all the 99-word stories and 99-syllable poems based on Sue’s photo prompt, click HERE.

I’m delighted to share one of my entries.

The Proposal

When he’d asked for her hand, he’d promised a white-washed farm in the patchwork valley. Verdant fields and tart cherry trees perfect for pies. He’d offered gardens and pearls and the earnest comfort of old-fashioned love. And each time, she’d denied him.

Then they’d climbed her autumn hill, where the valley flowed like an emerald river, and beneath the woolen clouds, the sun’s long brush painted the mountains with light. He grasped her hand and dropped to a knee. “If I build you a cabin on this golden hill, will you marry me?”

So certain was her answer.

Yes.

Smorgasbord Book Reviews – #Fantasy – Soul Swallowers (The Shattered Sea Book 1) by D.Wallace Peach

A review from Sally Cronin, blogger and author extraordinaire, is always a delight. The review of Soul Swallowers got me off the couch for a happy dance. Thank you, Sally!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

This week my review is for D.Wallace Peach and Soul Swallowers (The Shattered Sea Book 1)

About the book

When swallowed, some souls gift insights, wisdom, a path to understanding. Others unleash power, proficiency with a sword, and indifference to death. One soul assimilates with ease. But swallow a host of the dead and risk a descent into madness.

Estranged from his family over the murder of his wife, young Raze Anvrell wields his fists to vent his rage. Then a chance at a new life beckons, and he retreats to the foothills of the Ravenwood, the haunt of unbound ghosts. He and his mentor build a freehold, a life of physical labor and the satisfaction of realizing a dream. They raise horses and whittle by the fire until the old man dies, and Raze swallows his first soul.

When his brother reaches out, open wounds begin to scar. But…

View original post 607 more words

The Sea Witch’s Bargain

Something short today! Yay!

This poem is in response to Colleen Chesebro’s #Tanka Tuesday challenge. It needed to include synonyms for Eager & Hope provided by Sally Cronin. It’s a syllabic poem called a Double Ennead consisting of 3 stanzas with syllables 6/5/11/6/5.

My goal was to capture the theme of my current WIP: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch.

The Sea Witch’s Bargain

Beware a dark bargain
A craft of desire
Conspired with the merrow’s silver-tailed witch
Her golden-tongued harpoon
Bristles with veiled barbs

She feasts on treasure-dreams
Conjured from sea beds
Her oaths, leviathans steeped in deception
Plunged in mountainous waves
She drowns the reckless

Or forsake her plunder
Mortal in the brine
A quiet heart surrenders to airlessness
Clasping pearls of courage
Deep in love redeemed

Tea Toast & Trivia Podcast

I had the wonderful experience recently of participating in a podcast interview conducted by Rebecca Budd. She made the entire process effortless and enjoyable, and she learned that I have no problem talking about writing and publishing!

If you have a bit of time, stop by at Tea Toast & Trivia to listen in on our conversation. And take a moment to browse her beautiful site. Here we go:

***

Welcome to Tea Toast & Trivia.

Thank you for listening in.

I am your host Rebecca Budd, and I am looking forward to sharing this moment with you. 

I am delighted and thrilled that my blogger friend and writer, D Wallace Peach, has joined me on Tea Toast & Trivia for a discussion about writing, connecting, and engaging within the world of writing and publishing.  Diana is on my side of the world, just south of the Canadian Border.  She lives in a log cabin, situated on a mountain, with her husband, two owls and a horde of bats.  She has found a place of belonging, surrounded by evergreens in the lush, green wilderness of the Oregon rainforest.

I invite you to put the kettle on and add to this exciting conversation on Tea Toast & Trivia.

Thank you for joining Diana and me on Tea Toast & Trivia.

(To listen to the podcast, please continue on to Tea Toast & Trivia...)

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021 – #Pot Luck – Blogging Kindness by D. Wallace Peach

I’m so pleased to be over at Sally’s today with a post from the past. Comments are closed over here, but I’ll be visiting with anyone who stops by at her wonderful blog. Happy Monday!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1000 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine. The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics.

In this series I will be sharing posts from the last six months of 2020

It is an opportunity to showcase your writing skill to my readers and also to share on my social media. Which combined is around the 46,000 mark. If you are an author your books will be mentioned too, along with their buy links and your other social media contacts. Head over to find out how to participate: Posts from Your Archives 2021

This is the first post from July 2020 by fantasy author Diana Wallace Peach,and she…

View original post 1,015 more words

February Book Reviews

March is almost here! Time to plan some reading for spring (or autumn)!

February book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a paranormal western, a psychological thriller, a western contemporary romance, and a spooky kid’s book. ! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I’m a total sucker for beautiful, lyrical writing, and this book is loaded with it. I was underlining the paperback like a mad woman. The story is based on a Russian folktale, I think, but it was unfamiliar to me, so I read the story as if it were a fantasy. It definitely has the feeling of a folktale with a Russian flavor. The details are rich, rich, rich, magical and fantastical, a feast for a reader’s imagination.

The story begins when Vasya is a child and goes until her young womanhood. She has “the sight,” capable of seeing the spirits of the home and northern forest. Some of them are kindly and some terrible. Vasya’s stepmother believes they are evil and tries to drive them out. Their battle of wills is magnified as the Frost Demon and his brother, the Bear, compete for Vasya’s life. Tragedy befalls the north when a Christian zealot arrives, spreading fear of the old ways. As the spirits weaken, Vasya is the only one with the courage to take a stand. There’s so much more to this story than that – a battle for independence, deep family love, madness, the old gods against the new, and all set against the beauty, magic, and deadly cold of winter.

Aside from the exquisite writing and storytelling, the characters are deeply drawn with multilayered emotions and motivations. Little is spelled out and the complexity of the story, details, and characters had me flipping the pages deep into the night. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy folktale retellings, fantasy, and beautiful writing.

*****

Mateo’s Law by Sandra Cox

What a fun read. Mateo is a shapeshifting sheriff in small town Grizzly, Montana, and few, if any, residents know his secret. His chief deputy, Blair, is a transplant from Atlanta, and when a black wolf begins killing animals and slashing people, the two of them are on the case. Sardonic banter and aggravating behavior scarcely mask the sexual tension flying between them.

Mateo is a competent, dark, mysterious, and hunky guy, but Blair was my favorite character, her snappy sarcasm and self-deprecating humor right up my alley. She’s also tough, comfortable with her identity, and undaunted when it comes to doing the right thing. She doesn’t know Mateo’s secret, which generates some entertaining situations.

Secondary characters are well done, particularly the wolves and Mateo’s estranged friend, Jesse. Other characters and the setting serve to round out the story without going into a great deal of backstory or detail. The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s a great backdrop for a lot of fast-paced action that showcases Mateo’s and Blair’s relationship. No dull moments in this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary westerns with a paranormal flair, and great characters with lots of personality who generate sparks.

*****

Brody Cody and the Haunted Vacation House by Toni Pike

Tornado Boy and I enjoyed the first Brody Cody book and were eager to pick up this one. It had the perfect amount of scariness for an 8-year-old who’s just started to enjoy ghost stories.

Brody, his mom and dad, and three friends go on vacation to the Blue Mountains. They’ve rented the Wysludge Manor, a dusty cobwebby house with overgrown, dead gardens. Things start going wrong right from the start, and Brody and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences, creepy noises, and visions of ghosts.

The book is about an hour’s read, the language accessible to young independent readers and a fun choice for parents and kids who enjoy chapter books. Grammy and Tornado Boy highly recommend Brody Cody books and look forward to the next one!

*****

Seasoned with Destiny by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

Judy Carlson is at the stage in life where she’s enjoying her grown sons, their families, and a batch of grandchildren with more on the way. She’s also having hot flashes and after years of widowhood, starting to date. But Dale Conner comes with some baggage that opens her eyes to the real hero in her life, one right under her nose.

There’s danger in this book, but this romance is well…mostly romance. And for those who wonder if it’s ever too late to love, this might be the perfect read. There are also lots and lots of babies, as well as family dynamics that keep Judy busy between asserting her independence and discovering love. She’s a tough lady.

This is the fifth book in the Double Dutch Ranch series, but I read it as a stand-alone, and it worked just dandy, though I can see how reading it in order would flesh out her family in preparation for this novel. I enjoyed the story and recommend it to readers of contemporary western romance.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 2, Penllyn by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In true serial form, Journey 2 starts at the end of the first and isn’t meant to be read as a stand-alone. In other words, start at the beginning! The first half of this Journey primarily introduces Zasha, a member of the mysterious group called the Deae Matres, as well as Zasha’s guardian, Tajin. They travel the countryside and grow concerned about threats to outlanders, particularly to women. I enjoyed this intriguing relationship and am eager to learn more about them.

The second half returns to Emlyn as she and her father walk to the village of Penllyn to sell cider from his orchard. It’s at the inn in Penllyn, that a second motivation for the trip becomes clear to Emlyn, and the truth is worse than her most worrisome imaginings.

Descriptions are vivid and beautiful and sometimes chilling. The worldbuilding is intricate and thorough. I came to like Emlyn more and her father less as the characters continue to develop. A fair amount of Emlyn’s experience is conveyed through her thoughts as italicized internal dialog. I have mixed feelings about that, but there’s plenty of verbal dialog to round it out. Dreams play a large part in this journey as well as ghosts who introduce Emlyn to potential allies in the Deae Matres. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

*****

Warning Signs by Carol Balawyder

This psychological thriller is told from three points of view: a serial killer, the young woman who loves him, and the detective investigating the murders of several teenagers.

Eugene Munroe is a creepy guy, and there were times during the read where the real world disappeared and I was completely absorbed in his strange and fascinating thought processes. Angie is overly needy and desperate for love, and Eugene’s attentions have her ignoring the warning signs that something is wrong. Van Ray is the cop on the case who compromises the law in more ways than one.

The plot starts with a lot of tension that kept me glued to the pages. A significant twist at the halfway point changes the nature of the story, shifting it away from imminent danger into the psychology of the characters. The pace slows slightly as the book works toward a conclusion, but it wraps up the various threads nicely. The writing seemed well researched, particularly related to the serial killer.

I encountered a problem with formatting on my kindle (it may just be my kindle). There were no breaks or indents distinguishing paragraphs. This made the read more difficult for me, but otherwise, I recommend it to fans of thrillers, crime novels, and psychological dramas.

*****

Finding a Balance by Lauren Scott

I read this short book of poetry on a quiet evening. Many of the poems are reflections about the journey of life: love, pain, hope, and self-discovery. They’re told from a gentle and often wistful perspective. Scott’s language is accessible, as are the emotions within her poems.

Most of the poems rhyme, some subtly and some more pronounced. I generally prefer free-form poetry, but there are some lovely pieces in here including a selection of haiku. A few of my favorites were: Pillow, Healing, Refreshing, and Butterflies to Stay.

For an example of her poetry, this is the first stanza of Healing:

Gasping for air
with my head underwater
lungs on the verge
of exploding
I’m in orbit
heading into a world
of other dimensions
where gravity
has no bearing…

*****

Voyage of the Lanternfish by C. S. Boyack

James Cuttler’s sweetheart, Bonnie, is bricked into a tower by the Earl of Grandelur and won’t be released until James and Dan (Bonnie’s brother) incite a war between two rival nations. This demand kicks off the adventure as James and Dan travel through the fantasy world—first by wagon and later by sea as pirates. They assemble allies and a ship’s crew and cause havoc everywhere they go.

The book is a jaunting quest with a focus on a unique collection of characters and worldbuilding detail. The pace is moderate, and the plot ambles in places, but there are also bouts of intense action, and readers who enjoy pirates will appreciate the sea battles.

As other readers have mentioned, the real stars of the book are the root monsters. They “grew” on me, and their scenes are hysterical from start to finish. Boyack has a wonderful way of creating magical characters and imbuing them with distinct—and frequently outrageous—personalities. The root monsters are impressive. I recommend this fantasy read to anyone who enjoys rambling quests with fabulous characters, sea battles, and plenty of humor.

Happy Reading!

Opening: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

I’m a couple of weeks away from finishing my first draft. I should focus on those last 20k words, but I keep returning to the opening. Tweaking, mulling, editing, changing, and then changing back. Then changing again.

Openings are important. If a reader has been intrigued by your cover and blurb… and cracked open the book, you don’t have much time to give your hook a good yank (or subtly slide a barb through the reader’s lip).

There are a lot of suggestions for crafting openings that grab your reader:

  • Showcase your protagonist in his or her POV. This way your reader knows who to root for.
  • Reveal something about your protagonist’s emotional landscape. Help the reader care.
  • Start in the middle of a tense situation with your character in the thick of it.
  • Arouse curiosity or create intrigue. Pull the reader in so he asks, “What will happen next?”
  • Share a glimpse of the setting (world or place or time period).
  • Establish a unique voice for the character.
  • Hint at the theme and what your story is about.
  • Structure the opening like a plot. Tell a story.
  • Convey your writing style.

Yikes!

This opening isn’t finished, but I think it’s getting closer.

The hemp net hung from the boom over the waves. Within its lattice of pinched knots, the slender merrow drowned in the heated air. She had ceased her struggle as the sun tilted up, when shadows pooled beneath hard-heeled boots. Her graceful tail with its angelfish fins dangled from the end of her confinement. Beyond the reach of her fingers, swells rose and fell. Taunting, seductive. Rhythmic as they sloshed against the hull.

Like a storm-torn sail, the tip of her tangled hair dipped into the sea with each crest, shed droplets with each trough. The creature wept for her kind, for the sea breathing beneath her. The mournful plea filled young Callum’s head, overwhelming the clamor of merriment arising from the Brid Clarion officers who’d captured her in their mesh.

“We should free her,” Callum murmured. He drew his fish-knife. “She’s dying. They’re killing her.”

 “I spoke my mind, boy.” The captain placed a firm hold on Callum’s scrawny shoulder. “Put away the blade. It’s not our place to chart the course of another man’s conscience.”